It is important to bear in mind that few of us are really prepared for the onslaught of emotions that follow a bereavement. These will include shock, denial, numbness, anger, depression and intense pain. You are dealing with a seismic event with unanticipated, unimagined multiple losses.
Bereavement & Loss
Most of us will experience loss at some point so it is helpful to view it as a natural part of our lives. As few of us can avoid it we will look at some of the expressions of grief, which are essentially ways we have to go through to come to terms with the intense pain of loosing someone we love. Therapy will give you the time and space to express and explore your feelings and to understand that although many of them are perceived as negative they are in fact necessary and what most people experience. Nothing is abnormal; we all grieve in our own different ways, and your particular feelings are an expression of who you are, as well as the kind of relationship you had with the person you have lost. So there is no normal grieving process.
Grieving can be complex in innumerable ways. For some this will be an undisclosed grief, disenfranchised grief, when you feel unable to grieve openly for a number of reasons. It may be that you are brought up to believe that this cannot be shared without exposing a sense of shame, that you should be ‘stronger’ or that your family will not understand or accept your grief because they cannot deal with overwhelming feelings. If you are in such a situation, your grief will be that much more painful and difficult, as the healing process entails the need to communicate and share. You will need to have the opportunity to express your sense of pain, injustice and lack of fairness regarding what has happened to you. In such a situation counselling almost becomes a necessity to enable the journey of healing.
The Stages of Bereavement
Grief and loss is a universal experience that most of us will come across in a variety of ways, at some point in their lives, and not necessarily through death. This can be as a result of divorce, betrayal, injury, loss of a job or home. The following stages are fluid, some taking longer to process than others and dependant on the kind of person you are. You will have your own unique paths as you try to reorder your life and gain an acceptance of your new reality.
Thoughts such as ‘this can’t be happening to me’ initially help to survive the loss, because the shock and trauma is so overwhelming and there is only so much you can process at one time. One this starts to fade, the beginning of the healing process can commence. Denial is a temporary defence, a buffer, to be replaced over time with a partial acceptance.
“Denial and shock help us to cope and make survival possible. Denial helps us to pace our feelings of grief. There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle”. Elizabeth Kubler Ross & David Kessler (2014).
Once realisation of the reality sets in, the comments ‘why me? or ‘it’s not fair’ ’are common responses. You may redirect your anger or resentment and start to blame others close to you and your surrounding situation. This anger acts to re-connect you to the people around you and this new awful reality.
This is often directed at a higher deity or God and is in some way a false hope because of the desperation experienced. It is another way of postponing having to deal with the painful reality. ‘What if’ statements are common in imagined scenarios. For example, ‘what if I had encouraged him to go to the doctor earlier’…
The anger has been replaced with a great sense of loss and lack of motivation, and is a sign that you have begun to accept the new reality. This is the most commonly understood and accepted form of grief, experienced as numbness, loss of energy and direction and generally being overwhelmed. Suicidal thoughts may arise along with a sense of isolation.
After having expressed and processed feelings of loss, you will begin to sense that life can go on in some respects, gradually re-entering life in the new reality. It does not imply that happiness has been regained, but that by beginning to re-engaging with people and events, there will be the realisation that good days will gradually start to outnumber the bad days with the passing of time.
Other Symptoms of Grief & loss
Sense of abandonment
Yearning & Longing
Lack of focus & disorientation
Coping with others’ reactions to the bereavement
The Tasks of Bereavement
Another way of looking at bereavement is via Worden’s model of Grief, which emphasizes the need to work through the different stages. The first Task is engaging with Accepting the Reality of the Loss which often involves shock or disbelief as though in a dream or surreal reality. In it’s most basic form this new reality is got through by going through the rituals of a funeral and beginnings of speaking about the person in past tense.
At a more complex level there is need to accept the significance and impact of the loss while not denying its inner reality for you. An example might be the unwillingness to accept the cause of the death, such as in a traumatic illness or suicide. These factors must be processed and reflected upon before healing is possible.
The second Task is Working through the Pain of the Grief which is
experienced as a wide range of intense emotions, such as sadness, loneliness, anger, numbness and confusion, individual for each person. This can be exhausting with accompanying concentration problems, so it is important that you the grieving person are patient with yourself and self-caring. The danger lies in denying these powerful feelings, avoiding dealing with them and therefore being able to move on.
The third Task means you need to Adjust to an Environment without the Deceased, that is the loss of the person you knew. The adjustment to a new altered life and will again mean different things to different people. The task of readjustment happens over an extended period of time, and can require both external (such as living alone) and internal (redefining your sense of identity) adjustments. This will often mean learning a new set of skills and tasks.
The final Task is Accepting the Reality of the Loss means that you will need to be willing to process what has happened, and slowly going through facing the enormity of the reality of your changed world and trying to make sense of it. This is about reorienting your connection with the ‘lost’ person while moving forward with life. Finding an appropriate ongoing connection in your emotional life with the deceased, while allowing you to continue living. Again this will mean unique tasks for each person, which allow for thoughts and memories, while simultaneously being involved in new activities, people or relationships.
If this task is not accomplished it is believed it will be difficult for you to fully live and find a new way forward, by learning from the all encompassing pain.
Grief and bereavement as normal adaptations to Loss
Basically Grief and bereavement are seen as normal adaptive responses to loss, and its manifestation dependant on the environment and psychological make-up of the person.
There is a wealth of research in the area of Grief and Loss that provides useful insights to guide you as you try to navigate yourself in this unknown landscape. It is important to recognise that you are experiencing bereavement, so that you are able to process your loss which sometimes is not understood or even recognized as in cases of disenfranchised grief.
How does Bereavement Counselling work?
This is an opportunity to explore your feelings in a non-judgmental space, without worrying whether you will upset the person you are opening up to. Counselling can be the place where you take the first steps as you try to recover yourself in your new reality, to begin to understand your feelings, while learning to adjust and face your future.